In a public forum held Thursday April 4 at Crandall Library in Glens Falls, state Budget Director Bob Megna explains how the 2013-14 state budget balances new investments in job growth, education and innovation with tax cuts to families and businesses as well as reform to unemployment insurance and workers' compensation, moves expected to provide $1.3 billion in savings to taxpayers.
In a rare visit to Warren County, state Budget Director Robert Megna told a gathering of civic leaders and citizens about how the newly-approved 2013-14 state budget accomplishes a wide array of goals.
The new budget creates jobs, cuts taxes for middle-class families, boosts the minimum wage, reduces costs for businesses and increases education funding to its highest level ever — yet hikes overall spending less than 2 percent, Megna said.
“Jobs are coming back, confidence is being restored, and as the Governor says, it is now a new New York,” Megna said.
An audience of about 80 people from all over Warren County attended Megna's presentation, and nearly a dozen asked him questions about the spending plan.
Megna noted that the last two budgets, crafted in compromise between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature, represented a dramatic rebound from a $10 billion deficit and had put the state back on a track of financial responsibility.
“We've put our fiscal house in order — and we've right-sized government while showing the nation that New York is open for business,” he said.
Taxes reduced, government spending cut
Megna said that the dozens of state agencies were held to a zero percent budget increase, state employee salaries were kept stable and their employee benefits were re-structured to save taxpayers a substantial sum.
“We now have the lowest middle-class tax rates in 60 years,” he said, adding that families earning from $40,000 to $300,000 annually will be receiving a $350 rebate check this year.
“In 2012, 4.4 million new Yorkers received a tax cut, and there will be more this year,” he continued.
New budget to spur job growth, prosperity
The new budget reflects $800 million in business tax cuts, he added. Small businesses, Megna said, will receive income tax exemptions totaling $141 million, and manufacturers will experience a 25 percent reduction — a total of $120 million — in tax cuts, in an effort to prompt corporations to retain and create high-wage jobs.
The Cuomo administration's programs to boost employment have resulted in 300,000 new jobs since Jan. 2011, he said, adding he was floored by the data indicating that one-fifth of all new private-sector jobs in the U.S. during that time were created in New York State alone.
Hiked minimum wage offset by tax credits
The state's pending hike in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour, he said, wouldn't burden businesses because the increased wages would be substantially offset by a tax credit for hiring teenage students at minimum wage — credits that are predicted to total $163 million statewide. He observed that 48,000 workers in the Capital Region earn less than $9 per hour.
He also said that through reform of unemployment insurance and workers' compensation, businesses in New York would save $1.2 billion, without decreasing benefits to workers.
Jump-starting high-tech innovation
He said that the budget provides for a program to prompt innovation in industry, particularly in high-technology fields through establishing “innovation hot spots” in academic centers, launching 10 high-technology incubators and establishing tax incentives for business ventures that evolve out of the research and development projects.
“We'll be working to keep young entrepreneurs with great ideas here in New York,” he said.
Educational excellence a top budget priority
Boosting education is part of the plan to create new good-paying jobs, Megna said, noting that the 1013-14 budget calls for increasing state investments in education by $936 million, a hike of 4.7 percent. The Capital Region alone would receive $47 million in additional state aid to education, he added. This aid includes $25 million for all-day pre-kindergarten, $20 million for extended learning time — longer school days or school years; $11 million for rewarding high-performing teachers, and $4 million for early college programs in high schools. The state is to pay 100 percent of the cost of these initiatives, he said.
Funding secure for Developmentally disabled
Area resident John Davidson expressed concern about the pending $90 million cut in funding of programs for New Yorkers with developmental disabilities.
Megna replied that services and programs for these individuals would not be effected, because the budget cuts — prompted by reductions of $1.1 billion in federal Medicaid reimbursement — would be offset by cuts in service agency administrative expenses, prosecutions of fraud and elimination of overpayments.
“The last thing we want to do is disrupt services for this population,” he said.
Glens Falls Economic & Community Development Director Ed Bartholomew said later he was pleased to hear Megna's commitment to the programs.
“It's good to hear his intent not to reduce funding to the services for these individuals, and hear his pledge to monitor the situation.”
Bartholomew said he hopes the Cuomo administration goes further in cutting costs for both businesses and residents — particularly by eliminating the utility tax, which received cuts in this budget.
Queensbury board member John Strough, responding to Megna's comments on utility reform, suggested that the governor look into allowing municipalities to own their streetlights rather than lease them from electric utility corporations — such a move could allow installation of far more efficient lighting, saving taxpayers money while aiding the environment, he said. Megna complimented Strough on his idea.
Bartholomew said he was pleased that Megna, credited by State Sen. Betty Little as a fiscal expert, personally visited Glens Falls to present the budget.
“He really knows his stuff,” Bartholomew said.
Little also praised his expertise.
“Bob Megna really knows the issues inside and out,” she said. “There's not a question you can ask that can stump him.”